Many people, even sincere Christians, wonder how the early chapters of Genesis can possibly relate to anything that is real, or to modern science. How can these descriptions of creation events and the deluge of Noah relate to physical reality? Some conclude that it is just poetry, or allegory, or some other sort of fiction that only teaches how we are to relate to God. Others simply throw it out as primitive fiction even though it is the basis for much of what one finds later in the Bible including the teachings of Jesus. Still others regard the Bible as the authoritative word of God but proclaim that one must understand it only in a manner consistent with modern science. Some even refer to science as the 67th book of the Bible assuming that science is an unquestionably accurate description of the physical creation. These people claim that all parts of the Bible must consistent with science as the 67th book.
In contrast, Young Earth Creationists (YEC) advocates proclaim that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, inspired and preserved by Him for our use as an unchanging source of truth. They say that we should look to internal evidence to understand what God is telling us. Whenever we find an apparent conflict between our understanding of physical reality and the Bible, we should carefully reexamine our understanding of physical reality just as carefully as we examine our understanding of the Biblical texts. YECs assume that since God is the source of both, then both will agree when all is understood. However, such agreement seems essentially impossible to many so we want to reexamine the essentials of the Genesis creation narrative below. We will consider the flood of Noah in another article titled Biblical Flood. In the Bible vs. Science article, we will consider the proper relationship of the Bible as God’s word to modern science.
Days of Creation – What are they?
The most essential element of the Bible’s creation story is the six days of creation. So one must look carefully at what the Bible means by a “day” in context. The Hebrew word for day is “yom”. It is quite true that that yom has three different uses in the Old Testament (OT):
- The daylight portion of a day, from dawn to dusk
- Daily cycle including one period of daylight and one period of nighttime dark
- An indefinite period of time – E.g., In our father’s day …
Some seem to think one can just choose any of these whenever they run into the word yom. Also, some want to use the last meaning to indicate the wax and wane of a geologic eon of time. But to decide which of these applies in any given case one needs to know something about how each occurs elsewhere in the OT and then to look at the context of the given occurrence. The following data provides some important guidance:
- Yom occurs 2291 times in the OT. In nearly all of these cases, the context clearly means an ordinary day including one daylight period and one night period. Therefore, an ordinary day is the primary meaning of yom. One should have a good reason in any particular case to use another meaning.
- The plural form of yom occurs 845 times and it is always in the context of an ordinary day. So, one must have a very strong reason to choose another meaning.
- Yom is modified by a number 359 times in the OT and in every case the context indicates an ordinary day. Again, one must have a very strong reason to make an exception to this rule.
- When yom is modified by morning or evening the context always indicates an ordinary day. Once again, we see little room to make an exception.
With these things in mind, we can look at the context we find in the first chapter in Genesis.
Gen 1:1-5 NASU
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters
Then, after these brief statements of initial creation we find the first use of yom as a definition in verse 5 (bold emphasis added):
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Here we actually have God defining yom in this context to mean the light portion of a day that includes one day (light) and one night (darkness) with evening and morning transitions between the two.
Each of the six days of creation has the same structure: first, the creation events of the day are given, and then these are terminated by the phrase; “And there was evening and there was morning, a first [or second or third, etc.] day.” This repeated and consistent context uses three simultaneous indicators of an ordinary day: 1) it is the primary meaning of yom; 2) these days are numbered in order; and 3) these days are associated with both morning and evening. All of these together surely require the meaning of an ordinary day with one period of light and one period of dark.
It is often asked, given that the sun moon and stars were created on the 4th day, how could the first three days be ordinary days anything like those we experience? One answer is that God provided the source of light just as He is ultimately the source of everything. It is interesting that in the eternal kingdom described in Revelation 21:23 and 22:5 it is stated that there will be no sun for the Lord God will provide illumination. This would seem to be a problem only for those who insist on the assumption that there is no God or that He has not or cannot do what the text says. However, in that case it is the assumption that is the source of the problem.
Another Biblical text that sheds some additional light on God’s intended use of the word day is the forth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11 (bold emphasis added):
Ex 20:8-11 NASU
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 ” Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 ” For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Here we find God using yom in both singular and plural forms in just the same way for the days we experience in the workweek and the days of creation.
There are some who assert that yom is used because OT Hebrew dose not contain any words for a long indefinite period. However, this assertion is false. Bible scholar James Stambaugh gives a list of words that could be used had the author of the Biblical texts so intended:
ēt ‘time in general’
qedem ‘of old’ when used with a preposition
nēsah ‘always’, ‘forever’
tāmîd ‘continually’ or ‘forever’
ôlām ‘perpetual’, ‘of old’
zěmān ‘season’ or ‘time’
[See The Days of Creation: A Semantic Approach, CEN Tech Journal, Vol. 5 part 1, pp. 70-78, 1991. This is an excellent article with extensive bibliography.
In particular, the Hebrew word for ‘time in general’ transliterated ēt is used throughout the OT and could be used for an indefinite period of time. Furthermore, if the author of Genesis had meant long eras of time rather than ordinary days, he could have use various phrases as well as different words to make his meaning clear and distinct. For example, he could have written some thing like “continually coming, continually going, an nth time” or “seasons coming and seasons going, an nth time”. Moses with God’s inspiration could have found ways to clearly express long indefinite periods of time if that was what He intended. To assert otherwise is not reasonable or credible.
Many people want to say that the days of creation correspond to the sequence of major eons from historical geology and evolution to accommodate current views of the historical sciences. However, when one looks at even a modest level of detail one quickly finds that there are many strong conflicts between the Biblical order of events and the order found in historical geology and evolution. Genesis has vegetation including seed bearing and fruit bearing plants created on day three, birds and sea life on day five, and land life including man on day six. But historical geology gives primitive sea life arising first in the Cambrian and Ordovician periods from 550 to 440 million years ago. Early plants without seeds developed next in the Silurian. Then fish proliferated in the Devonian, and amphibians followed in the Mississippian. Insects, coal swamps, and early reptiles developed in the Pennsylvanian and Permian, and dinosaurs develop and proliferate in the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. Flowering plants with seeds and fruit did not proliferate until the Cretaceous along side the dinosaurs. Finally, mammals proliferate in the periods after the Cretaceous. Clearly, the historical geology sequence is quite different from the Biblical sequence. For example, the earlier things in one sequence are placed late in the other sequence. Nevertheless ‘theistic’ and ‘progressive’ creationists are undaunted by these and other contrasts and invoke the idea of overlapping creation days to rescue their thesis. However, this overlapping day approach introduces more problems than it solves.
We must conclude that the eras of historical geology and evolution cannot be made to fit into the sequence of Biblical creation events. All efforts to force the conventional historical science’s long ages of evolution into the Genesis narrative is blatant eisegesis.
Also, see the following articles with related information: